the sum of uncountable things

Page 1

t h e s u m o f u n c o u n t a b l e t h i n g s

denver butson

Copyright © 2015 by Denver Butson All Rights Reserved

ISBN: 978-1-937739-71-3 Published by Deadly Chaps Press (emergence) New York, NY 2015 DCs5DB|1| Book Design by Joseph A. W. Quintela Cover Photo: I remember the frozen drops of water, lined up like paratroopers, gazing down at the white field where… (2015) Portland New York London

this, as always, is for rhonda

and we, as always, are for maybelle

and this is in memory of Ted Enslin, who taught me more than I will ever learn


the sum of uncountable things

if things disappeared over the course of a day.

rather than over the stretch of a

lifetime. this cafĂŠ where you are sitting right now. would already be dissolving. even when it seems like you have just gotten there. the barista would be there. lovely as she is one minute. and then simply gone the next. and you wouldn't have to get up and walk out wondering. what her sweet look meant. and was it meant just for you.

because you will

be dust. by the time this song. you haven't heard in ages. returns to the silence. which it came.


before you even have a

chance to remember who sang it. once upon

m o r e ďƒ„ďƒ†

denver butson

a time.

and if the one whose neck you

kissed long ago to this song. or one very much like it.

still walks on this earth.

that was just some yesterday.

or if

or what long

ago passed as yesterday. before all the fastfading things of this world were made. ďƒ‰ there is no way to un-spell.

what has been

spelled by rain into our palms.

the word

dissolve for instance.

the way we learned

to drive for example.

I have ridden bicycles

with movie reels for wheels. and ridden and ridden. until the films of everything I was

ďƒƒďƒ… l e s s

the sum of uncountable things

riding toward jittered. planted


on screens that were



between here and the next ocean.

highways. and still

it's impossible to preempt our grieving. by imagining everything we love dissolving. the rain in our palms.


or the trees outside

the windows when we first drove alone. dissolved.

or the only photographs I had of

her dissolved. not long after she herself dissolved. and now is only a word. like any other word.

I would pronounce it.

as if it

has some special meaning. I would pronounce it now. if only. ďƒ‰

m o r e ďƒ„ďƒ†

denver butson

there is only one way to spell the word alibi. despite your various misspellings of it. these years.


she wanted you to agree to

call the lake where you first kissed her alibi

ocean. but you couldn't. and that was the end of that.

sometimes it seems like that

game of holding your breath when you were a kid. or spinning until the world would spin with you. and keep spinning. after you had stopped spinning.

the way every moment

comes rushing back to you. at once. when a certain perfume mingles with bus fumes. or when pigeons explode into flight above a sidewalk.

you used to carry a list of alibis

ďƒƒďƒ… l e s s

the sum of uncountable things

around with you. a



understood you.

in your wallet. the


alibis and



long after everyone else

seemed to have stopped understanding you. maybe you would recognize that ocean now. the one that was only a lake. until it wasn't a lake anymore. if you were to suddenly come upon it.

maybe you would reach for

your phone. only to remember that you had finally taken her number out of your phone. when






became the fact of her dissolving. and spun and spun you. even after it seemed like the world had stopped spinning.

m o r e ďƒ„ďƒ†

denver butson

 what we owe minus what we own equals a sum greater or less than what matters after we have gone on.

multiplied of course by

the number of birds that fly over the moment we are lowered back down into the earth. or by how many sparks fly up when our pyre ignites.

divided naturally by the silence that

comes after everyone has stopped speaking about us. please check your answers. please show all your work. 

 l e s s

the sum of uncountable things

in this photograph with a soundtrack by Ennio Morricone I have a six-shooter cap gun. and I'm shirtless and tan under a straw cowboy hat.

leaning out around the corner of the

house I lived in until I was eleven.


brothers are somewhere in the trees.


pistols trained on where they think I will reappear.

the noon whistle blew hours ago.

and now cars are making their ways off the pike. and into our battlefield. all the moms are in the kitchens.

rattling supper dishes

like drums and cymbals. moment.

I stand still for a

trying to decide which tree I will

run to for cover. a car door slams. and the

m o r e ďƒ„ďƒ†

denver butson

percussion stops suddenly.

someone's dad

walks down a driveway. whistling. I can almost hear. now.


something coming

from somewhere just on the other side of this world.







photograph. ďƒ‰ I dreamt I drove up to a house. many years before I was born. and my mother came out. she held onto her hair. because of a sudden wind.

she who was as beautiful as I

remembered her from when I could first remember anything. you're not born yet she

ďƒƒďƒ… l e s s

the sum of uncountable things

told me.

I know I said but I wanted to see

you before all the letters of your alphabet started disappearing.

the wind was so loud

in my dream. I'm not sure she heard me. I

will love you no matter what atrocities time commits

she shouted.

now drive away.

drive away please. she spoke and turned back. could not recognize.

to a house I

from any photograph.

of any of the houses she had ever lived in. and I drove away. as she continued to make her way through the wind.

almost as if she

were part of the wind herself.

I drove away.

m o r e ďƒ„ďƒ†

denver butson

in a car I have never owned. in a car I have only had the courage to drive in dreams.  as far as I know.

there is no such place.

called the avalanche café. barista there.

there is no

with dust on her lapels.


manager with the ash of who knows what. on his mustache. as far as I know. and as far as I know.

there is no such place. with

bleeding and bruised patrons. and tiny black coffees.

that must taste like nothing any of

us has ever tasted. after a disaster such as this.

after we had all become quite certain

 l e s s

the sum of uncountable things

we would probably never taste coffee again. no such place exists. as far as I know. but if such a place does exist. the door just jingled.

the bell above

and there you are

again. with the light of the outside world all around you.

there you are.

somehow even

lovelier than I could have ever expected you to look.

after all that has fallen.

after all

that keeps falling. upon us.  sometimes we have shelves of photo albums. walls lined with picture frames. and home movies.

slide shows

teeming with evidence.

m o r e 

denver butson









sometimes we don't even have an eyelash left anymore.

to prove even to ourselves.

that someone who is no longer. once wept onto our shoulder. or kissed and kissed our neck.  whatever the sky is. the sky is blue. in your memory. of the sky. and whatever the moon is. the moon is coming up. out of the ocean again.

even if you are not there to watch

the moon. come up out of the ocean again. whatever you

 l e s s



are undressing

the sum of uncountable things


as you have undressed yourself.

nearly every night before sleep. anyone remembers. were.


undressing. you so.


how lovely you once how lovely you are now.

whether anyone is there to tell

or simply to help you.

with your

buttons. this time. ďƒ‰

we slept like wine in forgotten bottles. I said. about the way we used to sleep. once upon a time.

we slept like electricity.

in clipped

wires. like birth control pills. in the medicine cabinets of vacant apartments.

all the

m o r e ďƒ„ďƒ†

denver butson

children who would neither be born nor not be born there.

we slept like taxis after their

drivers have crawled into bed. sleeping wives. love.

beside their

hoping perhaps for a little

or at least to dream of something.

other than traffic.

we slept like the word

sleep in a dictionary of a language nobody speaks anymore.

in a library about to be

bombed into rubble. like the emptiness which was the library sleeps now that the library is gone.

we slept like the severed tongues of

those muted by decree centuries before we ever woke and slept and woke and slept again. we slept like wine in forgotten bottles.

ďƒƒďƒ… l e s s

the sum of uncountable things

we slept like rivers sleep after they've spilled everything they are.

or everything anyone

thought they might one day become.


the huge mouth of the wide waking sea.  the wrong turns I took. in the middle of your body.

in the middle of nowhere.

middle of the night.

in the

the sirens or love

moans I heard. from apartment windows. or from the reeds along the highways.

of your

body. the maps I thought I had. in my glove compartment.



compartment I

thought I had. in my car. the car I thought

m o r e 

denver butson

I was driving.

in the middle of nowhere.

the middle of the night. your body.


in the middle of

the wrong turns I took.

ended up somewhere.


in a place I never

in a place I could not recognize.

the wrong turns that took me. else.


the sky there.


the sea there.

middle of your body.

in the

in the middle of

nowhere. in the middle of the night.  at the end of all else let's remember.


chef in Florence coming out of the kitchen. at the end of the night. with a guitar.

 l e s s


the sum of uncountable things

the drunk Scottish opera singer.

doing his

best o solo mio. let's never forget the owner throwing the aperto sign to chiuso.

and the

waitress dropping her apron to the floor. and stomping it away. as if it really did embody evil spirits. let's remember how we briefly danced then. as the windows steamed. how we ducked when the old woman upstairs banged her cane on her floor.

and the

ceiling thundered. as she threatened us with the wrath of the polizia. or worse. her dead husband. guys.

and his band of also-dead tough

and finally with Hell itself.

to which

she was singularly authorized to condemn us.

m o r e ďƒ„ďƒ†

denver butson

before we and the chef and the opera singer and the waitress ran out into oh my god Florence!





alleyways. like the dust we once were.


dust we would one day become again.


the un-crowded museum of night. ďƒ‰ soon enough the highway will disappear. and all the cars that have ever driven down the highway. the songs we sang with the windows down will fade. gone



ďƒƒďƒ… l e s s

into the greater hum of all the


the steering wheels.

the will be

the sum of uncountable things

things nobody will remember. ever again.

or mention

and all that will be left then.

after everything else has dissolved. if we are lucky.

will be the memory of your hand

briefly on top of mine.

resting there on the

gearshift. your fingers brushing my knuckles. just before you lift them to your face. tuck back that stray strand of hair.

to you

always seemed to be tucking back. and the blur of trees out the window.

and the flash

of billboard out the window.

will be all but

begging us. to remember them too one day. as if we will be here to do so.

and if we

are here as if we will have room left.


m o r e ďƒ„ďƒ†

denver butson

what's left of our memories.

to remember

anything else. at all.  I don't know how I got here. only café left.

at this.


at the end of the world.

can't remember what wrong turn. down one street.


led me

that turned into another

and then into this alley. that dead-ends here at this seat.

but here I am.

with no cell

phone signal. and my watch seems to have stopped.

the waitress speaks no language I

have ever heard. languages.

 l e s s

in my brief stint among

she has the smoothest skin and

the sum of uncountable things

the greenest eyes I have ever seen.

I did

not even ask and she brought me the most beautiful black coffee. cup. sadly.

in the tiniest white

and that's when I realized. and with a little relief.


I must admit.

that this must be how it ends.  alibis pieced together from parade confetti. are not true alibis. apologies.


and alibis are never





ourselves from doing. just as an alarm clock is not a getaway car.

every day she gets a

little taller than the ocean.

and yet she

m o r e 

denver butson

stands next to the ocean and feels tiny.


was sleeping when I was accused of being awake.

but that is not my alibi.

my ear to your chest. dreaming.

yes I put

when you were

yes I listened for the bird-bone

clicks that would open your safe. wanted to step into the vault of you.

yes I into

the place where you keep the most precious pieces of yourself. your breathing.

but all I could hear was

fast and short.

as if you

were running away from someone or some thing chasing you. and then I took my safecracking tools.

and buried them behind the

barn. with the loot we would never spend.

ďƒƒďƒ… l e s s

the sum of uncountable things

as I said before. or sort of said. a getaway car is not an alarm clock. your honor. once I was just a little boy.

denver butson


the sum of uncountable things


“there is no way to un-spell…" appeared as dissolving in Caliban "there is only one way to spell the word alibi…" appeared as spinning in Caliban "what we owe minus what we own…" appeared as october arithmetic in Caliban "avalanche café" appeared in Adroit Journal, the editors of which nominated it for a Pushcart Prize, and in Best of Adroit, 2010 - 2013.

denver butson


Cedric: for reading everything in draft after draft and saying exactly the right thing, even when saying nothing is exactly the right thing.

Hyatt and Josh: for space and time without even knowing that space and time would allow this little book.

Michael Carroll, Edmund White, Patrick Ryan, Ron Bayes, Garrison Keillor, Larry Smith, and Pietro Costa: for their support of my work over the years.

the sum of uncountable things

Amy and Stephen at Court Tree Collective: for the exhibition, the sum of uncountable things, the occasion of which brought this collection to light.

Joseph: for his eye and his speed and his sensitivity with this.

Rhonda and Maybelle: for, among all else, respecting my little nook of our apartment and my little chunk of the early hours.

denver butson

about the author

Denver Butson has published three books of poetry: triptych (The Commoner Press, 1999), Mechanical Birds (St. Andrews Press, 2000) and illegible address (Luquer Street Press, 2003). His poems have appeared in dozens of literary journals, including Yale Review, Ontario Review, Quarterly West, Willow Springs, and Caliban, in anthologies edited by Billy Collins, Garrison Keillor, and Agha Shahid Ali and on NPR’s Writer’s Almanac. He frequently collaborates with visual artists, musicians and performers.

photo by Pietro Costa, 2014

the sum of uncountable things

denver butson

Issuu converts static files into: digital portfolios, online yearbooks, online catalogs, digital photo albums and more. Sign up and create your flipbook.